A couple days ago I bumped into a previous international student in front of my office. After exchanging pleasantries, my next question startled her, “how much longer do you have before graduation and how are you liking your study abroad so far?” It must have been a sensitive issue based on her squeamish hesitation.
Sighing with exhaustion, she admitted to having another two years of college before returning to her home country. She described that she was enjoying her time in America but that it was a challenge coping with the academic and social adjustments. “I have a friend now who helps me practice speak English. There aren’t any school services that I know of to practice speaking English and American students don’t have time to help.”
I then asked if she had made many American friends. “Not really. Americans pretty much keep to themselves. It would be nice to connect with a group of friends who were patient with me. It would also be helpful if they corrected my language skills instead of letting my misunderstandings pass by. How are my communication skills going to improve if I don’t know when I’m saying something wrong?”
Of course I offered to help and reminded her that my office door (and email) were always open but this topic begs the question: “Are colleges and universities providing sufficient support services for international students and can cultural adjustment be made fun, educational, and affordable?”
I think so but it presupposes that a new investment is made in this student body and new campus services. As globalization continues to reshape higher education, we’ll all feel the impact of a new international society. Employers are hiring culturally competent applicants and educational leaders are responsible for fostering those cultural competencies. In order to generate a diverse, internationally prepared workforce, we must first address how we introduce cultural sensitivities and facilitate cross-cultural adaptation. What international student support services do you use, do you need, or would recommend trying?
3 responses to “Cross-cultural Adaptation”
I believe that cross-cultural and international education promotes tolerance and diversity within schools and the general population as a whole. People generally do not take kindly to the unknown, so introducing them to cultures that are different from their own that promotes tolerance would make a huge positive impact. The benefits are plenty when it comes to cultural education and self-reflection. It inspires us to embrace our cultures and see what made us who we are as people. By going back to our roots, we dive deeper into ourselves as a result. That sense of individualization is important because it instills self confidence and self esteem. There is a huge connection between cultural awareness and the things that are happening within the world. By understanding the culture, one understands the people and the way things are seen from their point of view. Perhaps seeing something from a different angle is what the world needs in order to become a better place. We often judge things without having knowledge about them and as a result, hostile environments are created. By knowing the culture, we know the issues the people of that culture face and what approaches to take to help them or form a bond with them. Multiculturalism should be essential to the classroom. What people fail to realize is that representation matters, no matter how old a student is. They want to be able to relate and see things from their point of view based of a their culture. I truly believe that multicultural studies are in fact the answer to this. These classes promote tolerance and understanding, which leads to the most important thing a student can have: an open mind.
One personal story I remember is telling my classmates about my family’s culture and heritage. Being the only black girl in my class until middle school, I always dreaded when February came around because it meant one thing: Black History Month. I was looked to for my opinion on slavery, The Civil Rights Movement, and other issues African Americans faced back then. I was often asked if I had ancestors who were slaves in the South and things of that nature. Unfortunately, I had no clue or relation to the slaves because I was the first of my family to be born in the United States. My parents were born in the West Indies and only moved to the United States in the 80s. I remember being asked to read a story about a famous African American inventor on the morning announcements and asking my teacher for help on what to write. She told me to ask my parents because they knew. They, of course, were drawing a blank and had never even heard of the inventor before. What always irked me (and my mother) is that people do not realize that all people with dark skin are ancestors of the slaves in the United States. That’s why I was glad when a teacher gave me a chance to write an assignment about our heritage. I got to tell the class about the country my family is from (called St. Lucia) and their traditions and culture. I also taught them a few worlds in the language, patois, and about how beautiful it is there. It made me very proud of my roots and my heritage to show them that every one is diverse and we cannot know a person’s culture by just their skin color. I recently had an old classmate on Facebook message me and tell me how he went to St. Lucia on vacation. It made me proud to show others about my family’s culture and to have someone experience it firsthand.
It is important to know who you as a person are and your roots. If you know yourself you can have power and confidence in your relationships with others. It allows one to appreciate the diversity of others. Fear of diversity comes from a lack of understanding. The lack of understanding can be focused around ones self or another. The only thing we have control of is building our own understanding of our self and our family.
I like how your family story was a strength to you in getting you through a difficult situation.
Of course learning a learning a language requires work and practice. One of the best ways of learning a new language is to immerse yourself in it. Surround yourself with the speakers of that language so you can listen and hear and practice. There are a few schools in the US and many schools abroad that have successfully used language immersion to teach foreign language skills. But, one of the components of immersion is spontaneous conversation. This is easy for children, and much more difficult for adults. It is a common for college students to make friends in general whether they speak a foreign language or not. Yes being a language learner can be a hurdle to forming friendships, but it can also be an asset. Friendships with other foreign language learners may form more easily and naturally. Native speakers may be attracted to your unique cultural background and perspectives. We all have a choice.